Episco-Fact #74
December 28, 2017

Other than Christmas Day being Christmas, what makes the other eleven days special?

Christmas. Like the season of Easter, is a special time marked off by the church to focus on God's entering history through Jesus. It is the powerful and special prelude to the mighty acts of God during Holy Week and on Easter Day. And, like many special periods in the church calendar, it also contains special days to mark important points in our story of Church life.

The first part of that story is one we have already experienced, the Feast of the Nativity. It celebrates the birth of the Christ child. Traditionally in the Great Church, it was celebrated with a series of Masses for Christ, hence Christmas, at midnight, in the early morning, and later in the morning. If you look at the lectionary, (i.e. the assigned readings for the day) there will be three separate groups all of which we covered over our services from 3:00 PM on December 24 to 11:00 AM on December 25.

Immediately after Christmas Day, there are three Feast Days in succession. The first is the Feast of Stephan. Stephan was one of the first seven Deacons to be commissioned in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 6:1-7) and he was the church's first martyr (Acts 7:54-60). On December 27, we celebrate the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. According to Church tradition and Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and church historian of the of the 4th Century, the 4th Gospel and the 1st of the 3 Epistles of John were the works of Jesus' apostle, John the brother of James (2&3 John are attributed to someone else, and Revelation was contested in its attribution), which means that he was part of Jesus' inner circle and was present in the earliest days of Jesus' ministry, present at the transfiguration, at the crucifixion, and was given charge over Jesus' mother at Golgotha. The last great Feast of the First week of Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Innocents which records the death of all the male children in Bethlehem up to the age of two years, the response of Herod the Great to finding out that the magi went home by another way and did not tell him where to find the child born to be King of the Jews (Matthew 2:13-18).

The final week of Christmas begins with the Feast of the Holy Name which occurs on January 1 and is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, 2:15-21, and focuses on Jesus' bris, where is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, according to Jewish tradition, and given is name, Joshua (in Hebrew; Jesus in Greek), which means that "Yahweh saves." The last-named feast of season is the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Greek word, which like its Latin equivalent, manifest, means to make known or to be experienced in reality. The reading for this day is Matthew 2:1-12, which is the visitation of the magi at the birth of Jesus. In that story, the magi prostrate themselves before the child, recognizing that he is a powerfully born child. This is the traditional day of gift giving in the Eastern Church.

Such is the religious calendar for the season. Oh, and the other unnamed days of the season are also days of feasting and enjoyment of the work of God. Have a blessed Christmas.